Aglio e olio literally translates to garlic and oil. Pasta aglio e olio is cooked with fresh garlic and olive oil. The dish comes from Naples but it is popular worldwide. It’s simple to make, the ingredients are pantry staples and inexpensive. Well, relatively inexpensive because the price of good quality olive oil can be prohibitive depending on where you are in the world.
We took a little detour from the traditional Italian pasta with garlic and oil. For our spaghettini aglio e olio, we used tri-colored pasta and added butter to the olive oil.
Why combine butter and olive oil? Personally, I’d have ditched the olive oil and used butter alone. But butter burns too fast. The garlic might not have enough time to flavor the melted butter before the milk solids separated from the oil and turned brown. So, I combined butter with olive oil.
Is that extra virgin olive oil? No. Extra virgin olive oil is naturally bitter. Garlic can have a bit of bitterness too so using extra virgin olive oil might make flavor of the pasta dish too overlwhelming.
When cooking pasta aglio e olio, it is not about how well browned the garlic is. In fact, browning the garlic is not even necessary. It is about infusing the oil with its flavor so that all the garlicky goodness coats every strand of noodle. Hence, cooking the garlic over low heat to give it plenty of time to expel its flavor into the oil.
Are chili flakes a traditional ingredient of pasta aglio e olio? Not exactly. There are several ways of cooking the dish, you see. Some add pasta water to the oil to make a light sauce. Other recipes include chili flakes to create a variant called pasta aglio, olio e peperoncino. But while adding pasta water and / or chili flakes is entirely optional, garnishing the dish with parsley is traditional.
Spaghettini Aglio e Olio
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 175 grams spaghettini (angel hair pasta) - or use regular spaghetti
- 2 tablespoons olive oil - (doesn't have to be extra virgin)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 8 cloves garlic - peeled and pounded
- ½ teaspoon chili flakes
- 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
- grated Pecorino - to garnish
- lemon juice - to garnish (optional)
- In a pot, boil about eight cups of water with the tablespoon of salt.
- Drop the spaghettini into the boiling water and cook until al dente.
- Drain the noodles.
- In a shallow pan, heat the olive oil and butter.
- Add the garlic and cook over low heat for a few minutes until aromatic (see notes after the recipe).
- Spread the pasta in the oil and toss until every strand of noodle is glistening.
- Sprinkle in the chili flakes and two tablespoons of chopped parsley.
- Toss thoroughly to distribute the greens and flakes.
- Optionally, squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and toss.
- Divide the spaghettini among four plates or bowls, garnish with grated Pecorino and the remaining parsley and serve.